Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Cranberry Pork Roast

I got a new crock pot cookbook for Christmas and this is the first recipe I tried. It was awesome. I served it with baked potato and some peas. However, there is so much great sauce next time I'd serve it over rice. The cookbook is by a woman who used her crock pot every day for a year and blogged about it. An interesting concept. I love my crockpot but not enough to use it every single day!

Cranberry Pork Roast
From Make it Fast, Cook it Slow and Crockpot365

2.5 to 3 pound pork loin roast or rib roast
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup cranberry juice
1/2 of a small lemon, thinly sliced

1. Put the meat in a plastic ziplock bag with the ginger, mustard, salt, pepper, and cornstarch. Shake to coat. Pour the contents into your crockpot.
2. Add the cranberries, sugars, raisins, and garlic. Pour in cranberry juice and top pork with the lemon slices.
3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for about 4 hours. (I did low for 6 hours then high for one hour and it turned out well)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Just three days left in 2010

There are only a few days left in 2010. Is there anything you need to take care of before we get to 2011?
  • Do you need to deposit any gifts of cash or checks you might have gotten during the holidays? (remember ATM deposits often take a couple days to be processed, teller transactions are processed more quickly)
  • Any bags or piles of change sitting around the house? If you take it to the bank to be counted there might be enough for a couple New Year's drinks!
  • Take a look at any spending accounts (healthcare, daycare, eldercare, etc)- do you need to buy a few more health items or turn in some receipts you've been saving? Each account might have different rules, grace periods, and deadlines, make sure not to miss them!
  • Did you want to cash out of any stocks or other investments during 2010 to count the gains or losses in this year's taxes?
  • Any deadlines at work for requesting reimbursement for expenses or miles?
  • Do you need to max out your 401k, IRA, or a 529 account deposits? Again, there are often grace periods, but it's still worth checking.
You get the picture. Take care of these things now so you can relax and enjoy New Year's!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas readers! Have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Potpurri

This past week we have been doing a lot of entertaining and celebrating the Christmas season. A few thrifty strategies and tips have come to mind:

Christmas Tree: We get a real tree every year, I just have to have the lovely smell of pine in the house. The past few years we have gotten our tree at Home Depot or Menard's. They have a large selection and reasonable prices. We have also tended to get a rather small tree. This saves some money, takes up less space, and we are also able to fill it up nicely with all of our ornaments.

Festive Food: My parents came to celebrate with us this week and my mom brought some amazing food. Lobster tails and a Frenched lamb rack. Yum! The lobster tails were from Aldi and the lamb was from Sam's Club. Places like this often have amazing deals on festive "foods of the season." I have heard that Aldi brings in lobster tails again around New Year's and Valentine's Day.

Another fun food tradition is to have fondue during the holiday season. Mushrooms, chicken, steak, and shrimp are tasty cooked in hot oil. You don't have to buy a lot of each thing since everyone eats a little of everything. Have fondue with several dipping sauces, a salad and baked potato and you will end the meal stuffed and have some great memories of that lone shrimp that someone lost in the fondue pot and tried to fish out! Or start with a basic cheese fondue (We love this one from Real Simple) and dip pre-boiled red potatoes, bread, and apple chunks.

Gifts: Gifts are usually a part of the holiday season and a part that can really set your budget back. One meaningful way to share with others is to forgo buying so many gifts and donating the money to a favorite charity. On year, we donated to a different charity in honor of each family member. We asked each person what kind of charity they would like us to give to, so they were able to be involved in the gift as well. Or a group can all chip in for one larger charitable donation in honor of one person or the whole family. Discussing spending limits with family and friends and drawing names for a gift exchange are other ways to keep the gift-giving thrifty while still meaningful.

Decorations: And as I mentioned here, remember to shop the after-Christmas sales on decorations and wrapping paper. Then remember what you bought and where you put it. I had a great surprise when I got out my tablecloths this year and found eight red cloth napkins I had gotten for 75% off at Target last year. Another way to save on decorations and paper products is to buy solid red, green, and silver paper plates and napkins throughout the year. They can be used during the holidays or on their own for other events too.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A bad online purchase experience turned OK

Last week, I found the perfect sweatshirt on for a Christmas gift (the recipient will remain anonymous). The price seemed kind of high for a screenprint sweatshirt at $33 plus shipping, but I figured it was worth it.

Then the shirt arrived.

It was the flimsiest "sweatshirt" ever! And the design on the front was at least an inch or two off-center. I thought maybe I was being over-critical, but my husband agreed with me on both counts. I went to the Cafepress website and filled out a webform requesting a return and refund.

Imagine my surprise when about 12 hours later I received this email:

Thank you for contacting!
We want you to be 100% satisfied with your experience.

I have processed a refund for you in the amount of $33.00. Please allow 3 - 5 business days for the refund to be reflected on your credit card statement. I know the item received is not up to your complete satisfaction but as our way of an apology please go ahead and keep it. There is no need for a return!

If there is anything else I can do for you please let me know. Your ticket code is 00000000. Please use this code in any further communication.

Best Regards, Support Representative

Wow! I get to keep the sweatshirt and am only out the $5 or $6 I paid for shipping. Not so shabby. I can still give the person the sweatshirt and will explain the story, it's the thought that counts, right?

Lessons Learned:
1. Cafepress products are of questionable quality
2. Their return/refund policy is good
3. In the future, don't just grin and bear it when I am not satisfied with a product, I might again be pleasantly surprised

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to avoid "bandit tows"

With the recent mega snowstorm and record cold temperatures, I'm sure many people have had to have their car towed in the past week. The New York Times recently published an article about how to avoid tow truck scams, otherwise known as "bandit tows." Some valuable information:

How to Avoid Tow Truck Scams-

Monday, December 13, 2010

2004 Diapers- Another Milestone

Chilling on the dock this summer
Well, we have made it to another milestone. Our 10-month old daughter started climbing stairs recently, but I am talking about a cloth diaper milestone. Yesterday we reached 2,004 disposable diapers avoided! As I wrote about here, every time I wash a load of cloth diapers I count them and make hash marks on a piece of paper posted on the wall in my laundry room. Here's what it looks like now:

My cloth diaper tally sheet

By my count we've saved about $250 if we had bought Target Up and Up diapers and about $450 if I had bought Pampers. We own 32 diapers, mostly BumGenius 3.0's, and received most of them as gifts, registering for them at Target and at Cottonbabies. We've also saved on buying disposable swim diapers, as my mom found an awesome cloth swim diaper at a garage sale that we used for all of her swimming lessons and at least once a day for swimming while on a recent vacation.

I haven't been on my cloth diaper soapbox for awhile, but I am still convinced that they are the thrifty, easy, environmentally responsible way to go. We were recently on a two-week vacation and brought 14 or so diapers along. We did a load of laundry every two days or so. We even used the cloth diapers while on the plane. They worked great as usual, no leaks or issues.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Slow Cooker Pot Roast

It's seven degrees outside as I write this. The perfect day for a nice hearty crock pot meal. This pot roast recipe was easy and turned out great! It also creates a lot of leftover meat that could be used for fajitas or sliced on sandwiches. The recipe is from the November 2010 issue of Women's Day Magazine.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Serves 8

1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed golden mushroom soup
1/3 cup dry red wine or cooking wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless bottom round roast or chuck roast or similar
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces, thick pieces halved lengthwise

1. In a 5 quart or larger slow cooker, whisk together soup, wine, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Add beef, turning to coat. Arrange carrots around meat.
2. Cover and cook until meat and carrots are tender. On low 8 to 10 hours or on high 5 to 6 hours (I used a smaller piece of meat and ended up doing 4 hours on high and then one hour on low)
3. The recipe says to pull out the meat and slice, but I was able to break it into pieces with a fork and serve that way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thrifty Travel Tip: Libraries

On a recent trip, we didn't have room in our suitcases to pack many books for ourselves or our daughter. (please don't tell me I should get an e-book reader, already wrote about that) In researching our Caribbean island destination, we found out that there was a robust library system. When we got there, we went to the library and for about $2 were able to get a temporary library card and check out whatever we wanted. The library even had free wifi. We got some great board books for our daughter and novels for us.

So, next time you're heading out on vacation, in the US or outside, see how their library system is before you go. It might help save some pounds in your suitcase.